By Graeme Perrow
The Rock finally broke the curse of Rochester Saturday night, winning there for the first time ever in the regular season. (Of course, Rock fans will not hesitate to tell you that the team actually has won in Rochester once, the one time being the 2003 Championship game.) The final score was 12-9 Rock, but the game wasn't really as close as that score may indicate. Twice the Rock had 6-goal leads, and were pretty much in control for the entire game. The first quarter was all Rock, and it started to look like it might be a pretty one-sided game. But starting in the second, and especially continuing in the third, the Rochester defense really picked up their game, and Matt Vinc made some very nice saves. Once again the story of the game was game MVP Bob Watson who was simply stellar, making 53 saves.
The Knighthawks have been an enigma to me for years. You look at a team with people like John Grant, Shawn Williams, Shawn and Scott Evans, Cory Bomberry, Gary Gait, Mike Accursi, and Craig Point, and backstopped by Pat O'Toole, and yet some nights they look like an expansion team consisting entirely of cast-offs from all the other teams. In 2007 everything came together and they won the Championship, including a sixteen game winning streak that continued into the 2008 season, but then they've missed the playoffs two of the past three years. I think they've seriously underperformed during that time, and losing Grant (and Bomberry) will not help, even if Cody Jamieson is the real deal. And he looked like the real deal last night, scoring three and adding three helpers.
Other notes from the game (which I did not see live, but watched on TSN2):
- TSN announcers: Yes, there are a lot of new faces in Rochester this season, and yes, Mike Hasen is in his first year as coach, but listing Hasen as one of the new faces in Rochester is patently wrong.
- Kasey Beirnes' goal in the first was called off but it was actually good – his foot didn't land in the crease until after the ball was in the net. Of course, I had the advantage of watching the game on PVR, so I rewound and advanced in slow motion.
- TSN's play of the game was Doyle's second goal – a backhand and underhand shot that found the top corner. I can't decide if it was a beautiful shot or a really ugly shot, but it counts either way.
- After two games, I don't see a difference in faceoffs. Other than when a player (namely Geoff Snider) simply grabs the ball, it still seems random which team ends up with the ball. The two players involved mash their sticks together and one of them wins out and pushes the ball behind him – but there are players from both teams behind him, so it's essentially random which one ends up with the ball.
- Congrats to Shawn Williams who reached 900 career points and Bob Watson who reached 6000 career saves.
- Beautiful over-the-shoulder goal by Craig Point near the end of the 2nd.
- Some pretty exiting Rock players have worn number 93: Kim Squire back in the early 2000's, then captain Chris Driscoll, and now rookie Aaron Pascas, who scored two last week and another two tonight.
- Two strange stats: for the second straight game the Rock didn't allow a goal in the third period, and there was only one penalty in the game – an Illegal Substitution penalty against Rochester at the end of the third.
- Stephan Leblanc's streak of scoring in every NLL game he's ever played in continued with a hattrick. That's 21 straight games with a goal to start his career. The announcers mentioned this streak but strangely, there was no mention of what the league record is. Maybe nobody knows. Or maybe Gary Gait holds the record of something like 84 games and Leblanc is so far away from breaking it that mentioning it wasn't worth it.
Each off-season for the past four or five I've wondered about the Rock's goaltender situation in the next season, and the phrase "Whipper isn't getting any younger" always seems to come up. But during the season, that phrase never comes up at all. Watson is arguably the greatest goalie in the history of the NLL, and despite being 40 years old, is still one of the best in the league. Watson recently became a police officer in Kitchener-Waterloo, and because of the new career, he didn't even decide whether he would play this year until shortly before the season began. Given that, it's probably safe to assume that this will be his last season, which is a huge blow to the Rock. Watson has been one of the top goalies in the league for the entire existence of the franchise, so the end of the Watson era in Toronto will be bigger than the end of the Bartley era or even the Veltman era. I only hope that if Watson does decide to retire after this season, he announces it before the end of the season as Veltman did so that he can also be given the goodbye he deserves. I have confidence in both of the backup goalies, Campbell and Nash, but as backups. Neither has been a regular starting goalie in the NLL for a few years, so I'm not sure how confident I will be next year if the Rock go with Nash and Campbell as their goalies.